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In the media

Storytelling large and small

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By Smallbones and Jonatan Svensson Glad

Journalists often report on the workings of the large Wikipedia community by focusing on a few individuals. It's an old storytelling technique – older than Homer – that lets the audience identify with the "main actors" in a complex situation and draw general conclusions starting from the specific details embodied by the individuals. But does this technique reflect the true complexity of the Wikipedia community where so many editors interact? And what happens when the editing community is not so large?

Just another article on COVID-19 and Wikipedia?

"Covid-19 is one of Wikipedia’s biggest challenges ever. Here’s how the site is handling it." The Washington Post examines Wikipedia's response to the pandemic focusing on the contributions of individual editors who they identify as Jason Moore, Netha Hussain, and Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight. Moore helped organize WikiProject COVID-19. Hussain, a doctor and researcher, wrote about COVID-19 and pregnancy. Stephenson-Goodknight wrote about fashion and the pandemic. They all contributed to the overall effort.

Our readers have likely seen articles like this before, though the Post does an exceptionally good job. Over a dozen articles in The Signpost have reported how Wikipedians have been affected by and reacted to the pandemic, including in our columns "Project report", "Community view", "Gallery", "Recent research", "Traffic report", "News from the WMF" and "From the editors". This column, "In the media", has reported over 7 months on about twenty stories published off-Wiki about Wikipedia's response, starting with Omer Benjakob's groundbreaking story published in Wired on February 9. Almost all these stories are highly complimentary to several individual editors, who deserve the recognition. Almost all report on the contributions of a broad segment of the community, which perhaps deserves even greater recognition.

A pleasant myth

"Why Wikipedia Decided to Stop Calling Fox a ‘Reliable’ Source" Noam Cohen in Wired traces Fox News's fall from the esteemed heights of being considered a "generally reliable" source on Wikipedia in the areas of science and politics. Starting with a series of challenges to Fox's reliability in the article Karen Bass by editor Muboshgu, Cohen ends with the reasoning of admin Lee Vilenski

We don’t have to assume that Fox is acting in good or bad faith—we simply need to assess if we can trust the information being provided. In this case, a lot of users suggested using our policies that it couldn’t be trusted enough to be 'reliable' for these two topics.

In other words, Wikipedians simply needed to rationally reassess Fox's record in these two areas. It's compelling reading, and he accuses Wikipedians of being "old-school" and even of having "integrity". But many Wikipedians have distrusted Fox's reliability since the beginnings of the project. More likely this distrust simply grew stronger as time passed. Or perhaps the political balance of editors has changed over the years. Thanks for the kind words, Noam.

Kamala Harris and an unpleasant reality

In "The Wikipedia War That Shows How Ugly This Election Will Be" (August 13), The Atlantic examines the reactions to then-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden naming Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. According to The Atlantic, several news sources, including Fox News, have crossed a line in their reporting on Harris. Perhaps the worst offender was an op-ed, now denounced by its publisher Newsweek, which argues that Harris is not eligible to run for the office which requires being a "natural born citizen". The author of the op-ed, John C. Eastman, doesn't question that Harris was born in Oakland, California, but was expounding on a novel theory of the meaning of "natural born citizen". According to Newsweek, this questioning of her eligibility is now being used by others to support the "racist lie of Birtherism" that was used against Barack Obama.

Wikipedia's reaction was fairly quick in reporting Biden's naming of Harris. Questioning Harris's racial identity and a sexist slur soon followed. One editor was banned. Within 45 minutes of the announcement, the article had been updated, vandalized, corrected, and semi-protected. The questioning of Harris's African American identity then moved to the talk page.

The Scots Wikipedia and smaller language communities

See News and notes for the main story on the Scots Wikipedia incident

"A Teen Threw Scots Wiki Into Chaos and It Highlights a Massive Problem With Wikipedia" is about the language editions of Wikipedia that are supported by smaller editing communities that are vulnerable to problems that can go undetected in these communities. One example cited by Gizmodo is the Croatian Wikipedia, whose admins have come under criticism for wide-ranging instant bans of editors who disagree politically with them. An article in The Signpost alerted the broader Wikipedia community to the problem, but an RFC is still pending a Steward close. Another example from Gizmodo is the Cebuano Wikipedia, the second largest Wikipedia by article count, yet almost entirely written by a non-native speaker from Sweden using a bot. A healthy community is essential to check the sanity of contributions and keep order, yet a look at List of Wikipedias shows that only 28 out of 313 language editions of Wikipedia have had more than 1000 active editors in the past 30 days. Only 80 editions have more than 100 active editors. Considering that many of these "active" accounts are bots, spammers, or passing admins banning the spammer, that's a lot of editions that need some love and care - both from enthusiasts and native speakers.

Whitewashing by cryptocurrency company

FT Alphaville (not paywalled) describes "something like an 'edit war'" on the article about Brad Garlinghouse, the CEO of Ripple Labs. Ripple is in the business of transferring money across borders using its own cryptocurrency. Garlinghouse was caught off-Wiki saying that SWIFT, a leader in the field of cross-border money transfer, had a 6% error rate – a claim which has been convincingly refuted. He has also had some legal difficulties. A controversy section which described these facts was removed several times, first by an anon whose IP address geolocates to a city near a known Ripple business address, then by a logged-in user who FT-A suggests may be a Ripple employee.

David Gerard, a Wikipedia administrator and noted cryptocurrency skeptic, reverted the removal of information about Garlinghouse four times over the course of three weeks, following a similar number of edits by others over two months. He was quoted saying

It’s not clear precisely who did this but, if it looks like corporate whitewashing and quacks like corporate whitewashing, then we’ll treat it as such.

The Signpost completely concurs with Gerard’s judgement on this matter. Cryptocurrency is a type of private token, something like money, issued on the web with a Rube Goldberg mechanism used to verify transactions. These digital wooden nickels have been commonly used in money laundering and other criminal transactions, and extensively advertised on Wikipedia. There are many more articles about cryptocurrency on Wikipedia that have suffered from whitewashing much more than this one.

Fundraising in India

The WMF published Wikimedia Foundation kicks-off fundraising campaign in India on August 5 and many Indian newspapers closely repeated the story, including Inventiva, News 18, The Quint and Live Mint. The Indian Express went well beyond the press release/blog, writing that "Its balancesheet however, tells a different story. According to a Wiki page on its fundraising statistics, the website was able to raise $28,653,256 between 2018-2019, bringing its total assets to $165,641,425. The previous financial year, it garnered $21,619,373 — a marked rise from the $56,666 it earned through donations in 2003."

In brief

Elon Musk Twitter logo, a stylized blue bird

Aliens built the pyramids obv

July 31, 2020

Elon Musk Twitter logo, a stylized blue bird

Please trash me on Wikipedia, I’m begging you

August 16, 2020

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